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an atmYour Money, Honey

ATMs are great for quick cash, but they’re also increasingly dangerous
WARNING: Next time you visit the neighborhood ATM for a quick cash withdrawal, be extra cautious protecting your dough—and your life. Police say as many as half the ATMs in San Diego should be avoided, particularly at night, because pulling cash out of them simply isn’t safe.

“You could probably drive around San Diego and look at 100 ATMs, and 50 of them would be suspect,” says Gary Hassen, a detective and senior public information officer with the San Diego Police Department. He’s become so concerned about people getting robbed at ATMs that he’s now specifically addressing the topic in personal safety talks he gives to various groups and organizations.

“You don’t hear a lot about it,” Hassen says, noting police don’t specifically track ATM crime. “It generally gets classified as strongarm robbery or business robbery.”

But with more and more ATMs popping up in shopping centers, food courts, businesses and bars, he sees an even bigger problem looming.

“What I try to impress on people is: Don’t be in a hurry to get your money,” Hassen says. “Take a moment and see if anyone’s hanging around, either loitering or just sitting in a parked car. And if they are, don’t tempt fate—just leave. When you were a kid, adults would say, ‘Don’t go into that dark alley,’ and you didn’t. Now, when we’re adults, we think it can’t happen to us. It can.”

Indeed, ATM crime has become such a red flag in the banking industry that the Bank Administration Institute has formed a task force to study the problem and recommend ways to reduce the number of incidents. According to task force statistics, the most dangerous hours for ATM crime are from 7 p.m. until midnight. During those five hours, 49 percent of ATM-related crimes occur. The task force echoes Hassen’s warning about loiterers, and also urges people never to approach an ATM if the surrounding lights aren’t working—and never count their money at the machine.

Similarly, the ATM Industry Association, a worldwide group, has published research by a leading United Kingdom criminologist on the mindset behind ATM crime. The study, by Professor Martin Gill of the University of Leicester, was carried out last December and consisted of interviews with six criminals who admitted to more than 50 ATM offenses between them. The crooks all said location was paramount; they preferred quieter locations away from the city center. They also said good escape routes were critical.

Hassen goes so far as to recommend people only use ATMs that face busy streets. Some bank ATMs are located on the back side of the building, facing the parking lot; these are the ones to avoid. So are those in recessed hallways or facing side streets.

Cruising the Point Loma peninsula, it’s easy to see his point. The Washington Mutual ATM in Ocean Beach faces Sunset Cliffs Boulevard and is steps away from a constant flow of traffic, day or night; no creepy feeling there. But on the other side of the hill, at another Washington Mutual in Point Loma on Rosecrans Street, two ATMs are tucked away behind the bank, accessible only through a little parking lot. The driveway is on a side street, and on the back side the lot is shielded by a row of dense trees that would make a perfect hiding spot.

“Any time you’re out in back,” Hassen says, “you’re a potential target.”

ATM cameras have caught myriad crimes over the years, including fatal shootings and stabbings. Just recently, the camera at the Union Bank ATM on Lake Murray Boulevard captured not just a robbery but also a carjacking. Around 5:20 p.m., a man withdrawing cash from the ATM was approached by a robber who demanded both money and the keys to the man’s car.

The 2002 Chevrolet Silverado was found a week later in National City. The suspect, his identity clearly captured by the camera, has not yet been found.

a tiki hut Surf's Up

WHILE MOST SAN DIEGANS are riding the new wave of surfing, with a never-ending quest for more and bigger waves, a resurgence of the original surfing culture is swelling several miles east of the ocean, at the University of San Diego.

There, Professor Jerome Lynn Hall teaches an undergraduate anthropology course called Surf Culture and History. His goal: to turn back the tide from the “me-first” nature of today’s surfing culture and bring back the philosophy of the original longboarders who believed in maintaining respectful relationships with tradition, community, yourself and the environment.

“Riding a board is only a small part of what it means to be a surfer,” Hall says. “I saw this course as a wonderful vehicle to introduce the rich history of the sport, as well as the traditions that make it a truly transformational experience.”

The 16-week course uses the natural resources of La Jolla’s famed Windansea Beach and also features occasional appearances by surf icons. Skip Frye, are you stoked?——J. MAURY HARRIS
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